How long will you live?

Vaccinating children early raises their life expectancy. (USAID)

You are probably going to live longer than your parents. A lot of people around the world will because global life expectancy (71 years) has risen six years since 1990, when it was 65.

Here’s why:

  • Advances in health care, such as mobile technology that allows doctors to consult with patients in remote areas and tablets that perform heart exams.
  • Declines in treatable illnesses, such as diarrhea and respiratory infections, in developing countries.
  • Declines in deaths related to heart disease in developed countries.

Health experts around the world working for governments, nonprofits and research labs are contributing to the positive trend.

The U.S. government and other American institutions work to extend global life expectancy. The U.S. Agency for International Development distributes bed nets to prevent malaria in countries with vector-borne diseases, vitamins to mothers and children, and diarrhea and pneumonia vaccines to vulnerable populations.

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, receives his flu shot. (© AP Images)

The University of California, San Diego, with help from the Verizon Foundation, advances health care technology. One initiative uses smartphones to ensure that tuberculosis patients take medication on schedule. This helps prevent the emergence of drug-resistant TB strains. 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a private philanthropic organization in the U.S., supports research that helps people doing development work understand where problems persist and how best to address them. 

“The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” says Dr. Christopher Murray, a global-health professor. While preventable deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria in developing countries have declined, they still approach 2 million children younger than 5 years old each year.

How much do you know about global health?